Railway survey will start Friday

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Railway survey will start Friday

The two Koreas will begin a joint survey of railways in the North this Friday, the latest step in a cross-border infrastructure project aimed at modernizing North Korean train lines and connecting them to the South’s to aid Pyongyang’s economic development.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with Pyongyang, announced Wednesday afternoon that North Korea informed the South that morning of its intention to start the survey on Friday. The South initially contacted the North on Monday and asked to begin the survey on Thursday. The North didn’t respond until Wednesday, when it suggested they start the survey a day later on Friday, according to the ministry.

The survey is set to begin about a week after the United Nations Security Council gave the South sanctions exemptions to carry fuel and other equipment into the North for the survey. The council’s decision was long overdue on the rapid schedule of inter-Korean cooperation, given that both Koreas had agreed in a high-level meeting in mid-October to begin a joint survey of railways running along the west coast of the peninsula in late October, and move on to the east coast of the peninsula shortly afterwards.

The entire survey of North Korean railways was supposed to be followed by a tape-cutting ceremony to mark the start of an inter-Korean project connecting roads and railways between both countries. In the mid-October high-level meeting, both Koreas agreed to hold the ceremony between late November and early December.

That original plan was botched by Washington’s reluctance to lift sanctions on the North until last week, when it finally gave the green light. South Korea plans to take 55,000 liters (14,529 gallons) of diesel, a UN-sanctioned item, to the North for the railway survey, which is set to run until Dec. 17.

In a press release, the Unification Ministry said the survey will help both Koreas plan out ways to modernize North Korean railways. It stressed that “actual construction work will be carried out along with progress in North Korean denuclearization.”

The South Korean government will continue discussions with the North to hold the tape-cutting ceremony within this year, the ministry continued. For 18 days from Nov. 30 to Dec. 17, officials and railway experts from both countries will travel a total of 2,600 kilometers (1,616 miles) of North Korean tracks.

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 5, the team will look at 400 kilometers of tracks along the western coast from Kaesong, just north of the inter-Korean border, all the way up to Sinuiju, near the border between North Korea and China. Along the eastern coast, the team will study 800 kilometers of North Korean tracks from Anbyon County, Kangwon Province, to the northeastern edge of the Tumen River.

The ministry explained that both Koreas surveyed the Gyeongui Line from Kaesong to Sinuiju back in 2007 during the left-leaning Roh Moo-hyun administration but it will be the first survey of the Donghae Line from Anbyon to the Tumen River.

On a separate note, the Unification Ministry said Wednesday that the South plans to deliver 50 tons of chemicals to the North on Thursday for pine tree pest control, adding that the shipment does not violate UN sanctions on the regime. A 15-member South Korean delegation of government officials and forestry experts will visit the North for the delivery and hold working-level talks with North Korean officials on joint pest control, the Unification Ministry said. As South Korean President Moon Jae-in prepares for his sixth summit with U.S. President Donald Trump this Saturday, Seoul time, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina, he is expected to encourage his American counterpart to be more lenient towards Pyongyang. The U.S. is refusing to ease sanctions on the regime until it achieves final, fully verified denuclearization.

But that apparently won’t go so well, a recent announcement by the U.S. Justice Department hints.

In a press release, the department said last Sunday that it pressed charges against Tan Wee Beng, a Singaporean man currently at large for conspiring to use the American financial system to conduct millions of dollars worth of transactions to finance shipments of goods to North Korea by a Singapore-based commodities company that he is a director and part-owner of.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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